_____The narrator comes to realize that the emotions we experience in our relations with others outlive the relationships themselves:
I had indeed suffered one after another for Gilberte, for Mme de Guermantes, for Albertine. One after another, too, I had forgotten them, and only my love, dedicated to different beings, had lasted.... So that I had to resign myself, since nothing can last unless it is generalized, nor without the mind dying to itself, to the idea that even those who were dearest to the writer had done nothing in the end except pose for him like the models for a painter.He aphoristically remarks that "happiness alone is good for the body; whereas sorrow develops the strength of the mind." This echoes Nietzsche's "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger," except that Proust appends, "Sorrow kills in the end." It also results in a somewhat more sophisticated spin on the cliché that artists must suffer to produce art:
let us accept the physical damage it does to us in return for the spiritual knowledge it brings us; let us leave our body to disintegrate, since each new particle that breaks away from it comes back, now luminous and legible, to add itself to our work, to complete it at the price of sufferings of which others more gifted have no need, to increase its solidity as our emotions are eroding our life.Sexual passion, in the narrator's scheme of things, is primary: "A woman whom we need, and who makes us suffer, arouses in us a series of feelings far more profound and far more intense than does an unusually gifted man who interests us." But the interrelationship between pleasure and pain is also key: "If one had not been happy, even if only in expectation, unhappiness would be devoid of cruelty and consequently fruitless." The greater the experience of unhappiness, the more likely the work is to succeed: "one can almost say that books, as in artesian wells, rise to a height that is proportionate to the depth to which suffering has bored down into the heart." There is no substitute for the painful experience: "Imagination and thinking can be admirable mechanisms in themselves, but they can also be inert. Suffering sets them in motion."
The narrator makes one of his digressions on homosexuality in reflecting on how his "encounters with M. de Charlus" had revealed "how utterly neutral matter is, and how thought can give it any characteristics it wants; a truth which is more profoundly emphasized by the widely misunderstood and pointlessly censured phenomenon of sexual inversion."
A writer must not take offence when inverts give his heroines masculine faces.... if M. de Charlus had not given to the "faithless one" over whom de Musset weeps in La Nuit d'octobre or in Le Souvenir the face of Morel, he would not have wept, nor understood, since it was by that narrow and circuitous way alone that he gained access to the truths of love.Similarly, Proust gave his male lovers feminine faces (and names like Albertine and Gilberte and Andrée that betrayed their masculine origins), reinforcing the point here that the emotion -- passion, obsession, desire for possession -- is universal, whatever physical form may inspire it. "The writer's work is only a kind of optical instrument which he offers the reader to enable him to discern what without this book he might not perhaps have seen in himself." (On the other hand, Schopenhauer warned, "Books are like a mirror. If an ass looks in, you can't expect an angel to look out.")
Reflecting on his life, he reiterates his premise of the primacy of emotion, which exists in the observer, not in the thing observed: "it is only coarse and inaccurate perception which places everything in the object, when everything is in the mind." He had lost the physical presence of his grandmother long before he experienced grief for her death. "I had seen love placing qualities in a person which are only in the person who loves."
Dreams were another, very striking, fact of my life, and had probably done more than anything else to convince me of the purely mental nature of reality, and I did not spurn their help in the composition of my work... this nocturnal muse ... sometimes compensated for the other one.And he comes to realize the central role that Swann has played in his life:
the raw material of my experience, which was to be the raw material of my book, came to me from Swann, and not merely because of everything that concerned him and Gilberte. It was also he who, ever since the Combray days, had given me the wish to go to Balbec, where without that my parents would never have thought of sending me, and without which I would never have known Albertine, or even the Guermantes, since my grandmother would not have rediscovered Mme de Villeparisis nor I have made the acquaintance of Saint-Loup and M. de Charlus, who had introduced me to the Duchesse de Guermantes, and through her, her cousin, the result of which was that my very presence at this moment in the house of the Prince de Guermantes,where the idea for my work had just suddenly come to me (which meant that I owed Swann not just the material but the decision, too), also came to me from Swann.But he also realizes that "I would have gone somewhere else, met different people, and my memory, like my books, would be full of quite other pictures which I cannot even imagine." Existence itself is an arbitrary, accidental thing.
Similarly, Albertine played an important role in bringing him to this point of realizing his mission as an artist: "she was so different from me.... If she had been capable of understanding these pages then, for that very reason, she would not have inspired them."